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Black Alumni panel discusses transformative student experiences

Five panelists gathered for a Sept. 28 symposium held in Alden Library to discuss "The African American Student Experience Through the Decades," as well as the improvements the university has made and those that are planned in diversity and other areas.

The event was part of the weekend's Black Alumni Reunion, which attracted hundreds of alumni who were interested to reconnecting and re-engaging with their alma mater.

Moderator Renea Morris, executive director of University Communications and Marketing, opened the discussion by reminding the attendees that looking to the future is as important as remembering the past when it comes to improving the university.

Morris' sentiment of turning our sights toward the future was reiterated in the remarks of each of the five panelists, which included: Seaira Christian-Daniels, senior journalism major in the Honors Tutorial College; former NFL player Jason Carthen, a 1993 Ohio University graduate and president/CEO of Redeemed Management & Consulting LLC; Candace Boeninger, assistant vice provost and director of undergraduate admissions; Vice President of Student Affairs Ryan Lombardi; and President Roderick J. McDavis.

Christian-Daniels shared a few of her experiences as a black student at Ohio University: She said she has already studied abroad in Santiago, Chile, presented research in Las Vegas with her expenses paid by the university, interned at a women's rights organization in Washington D.C., and is currently teaching Spanish in a local elementary school.

"I truly believe that the connections I have made here have prepared me," Christian-Daniels said. "From my first day of being here as a multicultural student, I received support from faculty and staff and even from other students."

Christian-Daniels also described feeling both "challenged," and "nurtured" during her time on campus.

Carthen said he wanted to provide as many students as possible with the Ohio University experience, so he elected to form a scholarship for incoming students.

"I want as many people as possible to experience OU," Carthen said. "I feel like that's a privilege and it allows them (students) to welcome their destiny."

Record numbers of first-year students are doing just that this fall.
Director of Admissions Candace Boeninger said the 2013 freshman class is "the largest, most diverse, best qualified class in the university's history."

She added that 13 percent of the freshman class is made up of students who come from disproportionately underrepresented backgrounds and that diversity and enrollment are on an upward swing.

"Momentum is strong and interest in high," Boeninger said. 

Lombardi discussed improvements being made to benefit these students once they arrive at the university, including the creation of a new social justice issues position in the Dean of Students office, additional transition and acclimation programs at the Bobcat Student Orientation and a total overhaul of the residential experience.

"This is not just a brick and mortar undertaking," Lombardi said. "It's about community." 

Finally President McDavis, a 1970 Ohio University alumnus, chronicled his undergraduate experience and the critical advances the university has made over the years—and those it continues to accomplish.

"We want this to be a rich, diverse community," McDavis said. "Not only with students of color, but with LGBT students, with more women, with more international students and students who have disabilities."

Rev. Jack Sullivan, a 1983 Ohio University graduate who attended the symposium, described campus as "monumentally progressive" and said that the university's positive outlook and willingness to improve made him "want to come back and re-enroll."

"I really believe in this school more than I ever have, and I've always believed in it," Sullivan said. "The panel gave me the impression that the school is still open for progress and improvement."